2017-05-10

sovay: (Claude Rains)
It has been a long day surprisingly filled with errands. Notes.

1. Because we had recently seen Roger Livesey in Green Grow the Rushes (1951), I showed [personal profile] spatch I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) last night. I hadn't seen it in the ten years since I wrote that post; I had remembered Pamela Brown like a rain-tangled Artemis of the Hebrides and Wendy Hiller's polished cheekbones and finally wild hair, but I had forgotten that I find Livesey more beautiful here than in any other role I have seen, which is fair, since Hiller needs to fall in love with him inside of eight days, knocked sideways by her heart as if by the gales between Mull and Kiloran. He's long-legged and he looks as good in a kilt as the dancers of the pre-war days that old Mrs. Crozier dreamily recalls ("The men—the men are more splendid than the women!") before the cèilidh, but his quizzical face and his sea-sounding voice seal the deal for me. Rob noted how often and unusually the actors are backlit, mixing the theatrical with the natural world. Here as in A Canterbury Tale (1944) the cinematography is Erwin Hillier's and while I can't say for certain that he was the decade's best photographer of landscapes in black and white, he can show you a rainbow against a luminous grey sky and that really impresses me. He got the location footage for the Corryvreckan scenes himself, which is William Wyler levels of committed. It paid off: everything in the film feels at once real and charged beyond the ordinary, whether it's Catriona amid her wolfhounds, Torquil rebuilding an engine, Joan leaning into a ladder to watch the dancing, Bridie waiting at twilight on the jetty's sea-washed stones. A telephone box by a waterfall. What happens when the wind finally drops.

2. In keeping with Powell and Pressburger suddenly falling back into my life, I read that the BBC has commissioned a new adaptation of Rumer Godden's Black Narcissus (1939). I should give the film another chance; I enjoyed it the first time, but the distancing effect of the vividly, deliberately artificial sense of place kept me from connecting with it as much as I think I might have if I had approached it like The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), which isn't interested in realism for a second and doesn't expect its audience to be, either. (To be fair to my hindsight self, I wouldn't see Hoffmann until about two weeks after Black Narcissus and I never did write about it. I never wrote about A Matter of Life and Death (1946), either, but that one actually left me cold. The way Andrew Moor writes about David Niven in that movie is making me think I should reconsider it. I hope he's right.) I have no idea how a more realistic version will work. It will not have Jean Simmons in brownface, which I am fine with, but it will also not have Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, or David Farrar, and that's more difficult.

3. Thank you for the 1940's pressbook for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), BFI. I have not seen that film in ten years, either, and should. A number of Theo's lines have become germane again.

In non-film news, I really resent this administration for firing James Comey in a way I cannot celebrate.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
Okay, everybody remember when I was wondering if Powell or Pressburger had ever seen Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith (1941)? Per Macdonald:

As early as March 1941, Emeric and Michael had talked to Leslie Howard about setting up an 'association' of film-makers based on the model of United Artists, which would swing the balance of power away from the 'front-office' to those actually responsible for making the movies. Emeric clearly felt strongly about this issue. As a screenwriter he desired—and felt he deserved—greater recognition and power than was traditionally allotted. But to him this was far more than a personal matter. The war made him want to make films that mattered. He knew what had to be said and he wanted the authority to execute his ideas without interference from above. On 9 March he noted in his diary: 'Went to Denham in the morning. Howard liked the scene and we talked again about a "United Artists" idea.' And again on 2 April: 'Talked to Howard quite a lot, and he is going to show me his picture on Saturday. Dined and slept at Mick's Uxbridge place. Slept again in sleeping bag. The big subject now is the idea of the "association". If we could get a few people it would be marvellous!'

It is unclear exactly what the 'association' would have been like, but by May Emeric and Michael had decided to form their own independent production company. On 13 May Emeric wrote: 'Mick and I went to discuss the name of our future company. I resent Michael Powell productions.' He clearly felt 'in no way inferior' to his future partner and demanded equal billing. Two months later—after some wrangling with the authorities due to Emeric's status as an alien—a jointly owned private company comprising 100 ordinary shares was incorported under the name of The Archers.


The diaries come from the Pressburger Collection at the British Film Institute and without access to them I can't prove that Pressburger was talking about Pimpernel Smith when he mentioned the "picture on Saturday," but if it was a current project of Howard's I can't see what else it could have been.1 According to Anthony Aldgate and Jeffrey Richards' Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War (1986/2007):

Howard had from the first planned [Pimpernel Smith] as a commercially backed project, but he found difficulty in getting a backer. Eventually Lewis Jackson of British National agreed to finance it and contracts were signed on 31 October 1940. The film was shot at Denham Studios between January and April 1941 . . . The finished film was released in July 1941.

During this same time, of course, the not-yet-Archers were shooting the interior scenes for 49th Parallel (1941) at Denham Studios and Pressburger was annoyed with Howard for rewriting his lines on set, which may explain why Powell and Pressburger formed a production company of their own without Howard involved. Then again, the diary entry that Macdonald quotes to illustrate his grandfather's annoyance ("They were shooting an entirely unknown text to me from a bit of paper . . . new lines, twisted the wrong way") dates from March 15th, shortly after the first entry cited above, so they had evidently patched some differences up by the beginning of April. Maybe Pressburger was really unimpressed by whatever he saw of Pimpernel Smith. Maybe Powell wasn't crazy about incorporating other people into the partnership. Maybe Howard flaked. None of the above. I don't have enough information. But this is more than I expected.

God damn it, why don't I live near the BFI? Can I at least get a teleporter?

1. Unless it was From the Four Corners (1941), which looks as though it got its initial exhibition in May 1941. I didn't think of it at first because it's a short and it wasn't directed by Howard, but he starred in it and has a screen credit for the idea, in which case this is literally where we came in.
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